Music for Stirring the Soul

Ralph Vaughan Williams’ classic Prelude to Powell and Pressburger's 1941 film 49th Parallel (The Invaders) is a rousing and movingly expressive musical reminder of the spirit and resolve of a nation at a time of unimaginable sacrifice. As well as consolidating the close affiliation between Canada and the mother country, Powell and Pressburger's film aimed at bringing the US onside in the Second World War.

The plot revolves around a group of ideologically-driven crew members from a German U-boat that is sunk off the coast of Canada. The group scrambles to avoid capture behind enemy lines, reach a neutral US and return to Germany.
Repel the invaders
A chase film in essence, but one that attempts to underline the importance of defending Western values and vehemently opposing those which are alien — the consequentialism of individual action or inaction; and doing the right thing in our 'Darkest Hour' when the British Empire stood alone and in desperate straits.

The film has a fine cast. Anton Walbrook, Raymond Massey, Laurence Olivier and Leslie Howard all appear. Understanding the importance of the message, they all took reduced fees for the film.

The importance of the music
Vaughan Williams’ marvellous Prelude bookends the film, setting the right tone with his characteristically English sound that strove to become an 'expression of the soul of the nation'. (What would be the music for the soul of the nation today? I can't get beyond the likes of Purcell and RVW.)

The importance of the music to the film, Ralph's first film score, is underlined by the fact that it gets a credit with the actors before the title.
Speck of dust in eye
Let's put a welcome speck of dust in your eye. Listen to RVW's ennobling yet pensive Prelude below.

Fling glory to guide us
Words were added to the Prelude by Hardy biographer Harold Hannyngton Child in 1943 — we're still at war — where the music is heard as the shining and hopeful song The New Commonwealth. As a testament to the affect of the music, one could imagine the hymn fitting into a wedding or a funeral — maybe more funeral. They say that the music at funerals is generally better than weddings.


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